Press Release: £19 billion owed in everyday bills, as Citizens Advice reveals it helps 1 person every 3 minutes with bailiff issues

Citizens Advice is calling for better regulation of unaccountable bailiff firms as it reveals households have fallen behind on their essential bills, such as council tax and utilities, by an estimated £18.9 billion.

Last year, the charity helped one person every 3 minutes with bailiff issues. In 2014, the government introduced reforms which were meant to protect people from unfair practices. Yet since then, Citizens Advice has seen a 24% rise in bailiff problems.

In July, MPs on the Treasury Select Committee said government and local authorities were “worst in class” for debt collection, and that bailiff use can cause additional problems.

Falling behind on household bills typically has more severe consequences than missing consumer credit repayments, like overdrafts and personal loans. People can face having their essential services cut off, can be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax. Citizens Advice is concerned that aggressive tactics are also having serious knock-on effects, leading to further debt and mental health problems.

In one example, Citizens Advice helped a retired couple who – for the first time in their lives – had fallen behind on some of their essential bills and owed £700 in council tax. The bailiffs who came to collect the debt were aggressive and demanded the full amount immediately, saying they were going to call the police if the couple couldn’t pay. The couple are now afraid to open their front door.

Citizens Advice says it has seen a significant increase in the proportion of debt issues it helps people with that are related to household bill debts since 2011. Since then, problems with these kinds of debts have overtaken the number of consumer credit issues that people are seeking the charity’s help with.

Its figures show the people it helps with household bill problems tend to be in a more precarious financial position than those with consumer credit debts. The charity says people with household bill debt were 37% more likely to be out of full-time employment and almost 1 in 3 people (34%) had a mental health problem.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

One person every 3 minutes come to us for help with bailiff issues. Families are living in fear of a visit from the bailiffs, and small missed bills can skyrocket through excessive enforcement fees.

Our evidence shows aggressive tactics by bailiffs cause huge distress and can even push people further into debt. Families are going without essentials like food or electricity to meet their payments.

The Ministry of Justice has already announced a call for evidence into aggressive collection practices by bailiffs. They must use this to take strong action and introduce an independent bailiff regulator to fix this broken system.

Figures from the charity show:

  • UK households owe £18.9 billion to essential service providers and government in arrears. This includes tax credit overpayments of almost £7.5 billion, £2.84 billion owed to local authorities in council tax arrears and £2.20 billion owed to water companies.
  • Household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the key money problem people bring to Citizens Advice.
  • Last year we helped people with 690,000 household bill debt problems, compared to 350,000 consumer credit issues.

Citizens Advice is calling for:

  • The government to commit to measuring the levels of household debt. The government should collect and report annually on the level of debt to government and to essential service providers – in a similar way to the Bank of England’s monthly statistics on consumer and mortgage lending.
  • The bailiff industry to be independently regulated. The Ministry of Justice should use its announced ‘crackdown on rogue bailiffs’ and 3 year review of the 2014 Taking Control Regulations, to bring bailiffs and bailiff companies under an independent regulator.

People who are concerned about their finances can contact Citizens Advice for budgeting and debt advice.

Why do scams work? Citizens Advice Ipswich explains some of the reasons

In the ongoing battle against SCAMS, Citizens Advice Ipswich is out and about in the town during June explaining to people why scams work and what we all need to look out for.

Visits to Ipswich Building Society, Whitton Fun Dog Day (Saturday 9 June), leaflets in our weekly Outreach surgeries and spots on BBC Radio Suffolk and Ipswich Community Radio are all part of our strategy to get the message out to as many people in the town as possible.

Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager at Citizens Advice Ipswich says: “unfortunately, there is a scam out there for everyone, whoever you are. The important thing is for us all to start to understand better what it is that scammers rely on to design an effective scam. We need to be more clued up on the tricks in a scammer’s playbook.”

Scammers use a range of tools to target the public:
They create a feeling of obligation – often contacting victims under the guise of being a figure of authority such as a doctor or a lawyer. They may also pretend to share a mutual friend or representing a well-known brand or company – “Dave who used to work with you gave me your number and suggested I give you a call….”

Scammers create a sense of urgency as they know we make worse decisions under stress and time pressure. Scammers can convince us that we need to act quickly to encourage victims to make decisions without thinking rationally, without consulting others and controlling our impulses.

Scammers appeal to our emotions – scams are designed to get an emotional response – this can be positive (eg excitement at winning the lottery or a prize) or negative (eg fear and anxiety about ‘fraudulent activity’ on your bank account.

Fraudsters make an art of understanding their target: they have different scams depending on the audience. They know that young people tend to feel immune from scams as they are computer savvy and ‘scams only work on old people’. This is not true. Every 15 seconds someone in the UK gets scammed. People who are well established in life can also feel that they are relatively confident in their ability to identify and protect themselves from scams due to their life experience. This group of people are likely to lose the highest amounts of money – average losses reported last year were around £20,000.

To help stop more people being fleeced by these types of scams, Citizens Advice Ipswich is sharing tips on how to spot them:

  • Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name you recognise
  • Don’t be rushed – you never need to make a decision straight away
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Never send money to someone you have never met
  • Never give out your bank details unless you are certain you can trust the person contacting you
  • Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance
  • Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer
  • Suspect a scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call
  • Persuasive sales patter? Just say: “No Thank You”
  • Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams

Watch out for legal and financial scams, warns Citizens Advice Ipswich

People need to be on their guard against financial and legal scams. Ipswich Citizens Advice is showing people how to spot scams as it launches Scams Awareness Month.

A total of 1200 financial and legal scams were reported to the consumer service in the year ending April 2018 – a 6% increase on the year before.

The median loss for these scams was £330.

A range of investments scams were reported to the consumer service, including:

Cryptocurrency – Fake websites claim to offer cryptocurrency investments, like Bitcoin. Often, scammers will pretend that household names have endorsed the company to give it some legitimacy.

Binary options – Scammers pose as stockbrokers and get you to place bets on whether phoney shares will rise or fall within a certain date. They’ll promise big returns. You should check if they are on the FCA Register and not on the warning list of firms to avoid

Holiday timeshares – Scammers promise to buy your membership off you for an advanced fee.

Bogus solicitors – A scammer will intercept emails from a legitimate solicitor and pose as them. Scammers often strike when a property is being exchanged on and get the funds diverted to their bank account instead. Check if they are on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to see if they are genuine.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:
“Scammers can make for convincing white collar professionals, especially online, and are skilled at persuading people they are legitimate.

“The stakes are high with financial and legal scams as you can end up losing your savings or pension fund, which can put your long-term financial stability at risk.

“When you get approached about any investment, don’t rush into anything without making sure it’s legitimate first, particularly when you’re contacted out of the blue.”

To help stop more people being fleeced by these types of scams, Citizens Advice Ipswich is sharing tips on how to spot them:

  • Be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even if it’s from a name you recognise
  • Don’t be rushed – you never need to make a decision straight away
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Never send money to someone you have never met
  • Never give out your bank details unless you are certain you can trust the person contacting you
  • Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance
  • Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer
  • Suspect a scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call
  • Persuasive sales patter? Just say: “No Thank You”
  • Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams

Citizens Advice Ipswich will be at a number of events through the month of June to help people understand what sorts of things to be aware of.

We will be at Whitton Dog Show – a Fun Dog Show, Castle Hill Park, Congreve Road, Ipswich, on Saturday 9 June. The show starts at 10:30 am and we will be there for the morning and early afternoon. Anyone who comes along can bring their dog and enter into the event as well.

We are also taking part in a session with Ipswich Building Society on Tuesday 5 June.

Citizens Advice Ipswich thanks volunteers for making a huge difference to people’s lives

Citizens Advice Ipswich is celebrating its volunteers who dedicate their time to solving people’s problems and making a difference to their lives.

Volunteers Week, which runs from 1-7 June, is themed ‘volunteering for all’ and the charity wants to highlight the work of its team, which helps people in the community struggling with debt, housing, benefit and employment issues among other issues.

The 60 volunteers at Citizens Advice Ipswich give up over 11,000 hours each year which adds up to around 230 per week. Last year we helped almost 5000 people with over 18000 issues.

The charity’s volunteers have played a crucial role ensuring people in Ipswich get the advice and support they need to get on with their lives.

Citizens Advice offers a wide range of voluntary roles including fundraising, advisers, administrators and trustees.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer , says “Our volunteers make a huge difference to people’s lives.

“They give up their free time to help people in their community, who may be going through problems, to get back on their feet.

“Volunteering is for everybody and it brings its own rewards. It’s a great way to meet people and learn skills.

“If you’d like to help people in your area and can spare a few hours, we’d love to hear from you.”

In our new group of volunteers who started with us this month, we have all ages and stages of life – two recent graduates, a student looking for volunteering experience during the vacations, newly retired folk and some others looking to learn more about Ipswich as a community.

Funmi, one of our recent volunteers found out about Citizens Advice through a leaflet at a Children’s Centre in the town. She started volunteering in October 2015 as she wanted to do something productive with her time while her children were in nursery. Funmi started as a volunteer administrator and went on to train as an assessor. She has since moved into paid employment in her professional field at Ipswich Hospital.

Funmi said: “You get more than you bargained for when you volunteer with Ipswich CAB! I have helped all sort of clients. No two cases are the same and you never get bored.”

Nicky Willshere commented: “though we were sorry to see such an enthusiastic member of our volunteer team move on, we also see this as part of our role as an organisation at the heart of Ipswich – skilling people up to get back into working in the local area.”

Nationally, 23,000 Citizens Advice volunteers help provide support in 2,900 locations across England and Wales – helping 2.7 million people every year.

Thanks to the contribution volunteers play in local Citizens Advice, 2 out of every 3 clients have their problem solved and 4 out of 5 say the advice received improved their lives.

If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering with Citizens Advice Ipswich contact us via this website or call us on 01473 219770.

Universal Credit risks leaving some workers’ financial stability hanging in the balance

money graphicUniversal Credit could risk adding to the financial instability of low-income workers, with those who are self-employed likely to come under the most pressure, new research from Citizens Advice finds.

Today the charity has released two new reports on Universal Credit, examining the impact of work allowance cuts on people’s budgets, and why its design can leave self-employed workers at a financial disadvantage.

Citizens Advice analysis shows a self-employed worker who receives Universal Credit could be worse off by £630 a year compared to an employee on the benefit, even if their year-end earnings are identical.

The report highlights issues with the Minimum Income Floor, a rule that assumes everyone claiming Universal Credit who has been self-employed for a year or more is earning the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

If they earn less than the NMW one month, their Universal Credit payment won’t make up the difference. But if their monthly earnings go over the NMW, their benefit payment will be reduced accordingly.

The charity says this design flaw is unfair and risks causing financial hardship as self-employed workers often earn different amounts from one month to the next.

One family helped by Citizens Advice had to visit a food bank as a result of having less money to pay their bills because of the Minimum Income Floor. In order to boost their Universal Credit payment, the father was forced to give up his computing business and stop work altogether, while the mother cut short her maternity leave to return to work.

The second report finds that employees could also be at risk of financial insecurity when they move to Universal Credit. In 2015, the Government announced a series of cuts to the benefit which will result in 2.1m working households receiving less money under Universal Credit compared to the old benefit system.

One of the biggest cuts was to the work allowance, resulting in workers seeing a reduction in the amount of hours they can work before their Universal Credit payment starts to decrease.

Citizens Advice asked 877 people across the country receiving in-work benefits how they would cope with a £100 drop in their monthly income, roughly the average amount affected households stand to lose from the reduced work allowance.

One in four workers (26%) said they would not be able to top up their income through employment even though they might need to, with 1 in 3 (33%) of those saying this is because they work full-time already.

Caring responsibilities (23%) and having a disability (18%) were other reasons workers gave for not being able to make up the £100 shortfall through work.

Universal Credit is currently being rolled out, and the number of claimants is set to double over the next year, increasing by 1.2 million. A final completion date has been set for 2022, at which point an estimated 7.2 million households will be claiming Universal Credit – 3.9 million of them in work.

The charity is calling for the Government to review both the lowered work allowance and the Minimum Income Floor to give workers better financial security and ensure they are incentivised to progress in work.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Despite the labour market changing significantly in the last decade, including a rapid rise in self-employment, Universal Credit is still better suited to those with regular jobs.

“The Government has shown it is prepared to act to improve Universal Credit as new facts come to light – an approach we strongly support.

“It now needs to look again at the design of the benefit to ensure self-employed and agency workers aren’t left at a financial disadvantage.

“It should also reassess the work allowance reductions to ensure workers who can’t increase their income through employment aren’t left struggling to make ends meet, while better incentivising those who can.

“A failure to do this risks undermining two of the core purposes of Universal Credit – to incentivise people to move into and progress in work, and provide low-income families with financial security.”

Fundraising Concert

Concert poster
St Peters Band – Our European Friends – with special guests

St Peters by the Waterfront – Saturday March 17th 7:30pm

Tickets: stpetersbythewaterfront.com £6 advance / £8 on the door

Supporting Ipswich Citizens Advice

Recruiting: Financial Management Portfolio holder, Trustee

Ipswich Citizens Advice is an independent, community-based charity staffed largely by volunteers who provide free, confidential, independent and impartial advice to everybody regardless of race, gender, disability or sexuality. Its aims are:

  • to ensure that individuals do not suffer through lack of knowledge of their rights and responsibilities, or of the services available to them, or through an inability to express their needs effectively.
  • to exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services both locally and nationally.

We are seeking someone who can offer the skills relevant to financial oversight of a small bureau (with an annual budget of approx. £300,000). We require a treasurer who can demonstrate commitment and integrity in advising the board on the financial health of the organisation. Responsibilities include presentation of the management accounts at board meetings, and advising on the corrective action that may be required when difficulties arise.

So if: –

  • You want to help the community where you study, live or work?
  • You believe in social justice and want to help change things for the better?
  • You want to make sure you and your neighbours get the advice you need now and in the future?
  • You have skills that you can put to other uses?
  • You want to get involved in running a small but influential and important charity?

Please consider joining us.

We can offer you opportunities that you might not be able to get elsewhere: –

  • Developing new skills.
  • Personal development.
  • Learning how an organisation works.
  • Giving something back to their community.

Ipswich Citizens Advice is a voluntary organisation. All volunteers are fully trained and supported by a paid staff structure.

We are an equal opportunities employer and strive to achieve diversity in all that we do.

For more information or an informal discussion on the role, please contact:

Email: via the contact form on this site.
Postal address: 19 Tower Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3BE
Telephone number: 01473 219770

Trustee Recruitment Information 2018

Citizens Advice Ipswich expects 31st of January to be year’s busiest day for debt advice

The last day of January is expected to be the busiest day of the year for people seeking help with their debts, according to Citizens Advice Ipswich.

Analysis of national data from the past 12 months reveals that on 31 January 2017 Citizens Advice helped 2,800 people, 30 per cent above the daily average.

This means one person sought help from Citizens Advice every 10 seconds.

30 January was the most popular day for seeking advice online, with twice as many page views as average for the rest of the year.

Locally, Citizens Advice Ipswich is expecting around 100 people to seek advice on debt throughout the first month of the year.

Citizens Advice Ipswich provided assistance to people seeking help for a wide variety of debt concerns, including gas and electricity bills, rent and council tax arrears, and credit card debt and loans.

To help people kick off 2018 on a stronger financial footing, Citizens Advice Ipswich is sharing its six top tips to help people get their finances in order for the New Year.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“There is a surge in demand for our debt advice towards the second half of January.”

“Christmas in particular can take a heavy toll on people already struggling to make their money last and leave them with a debt burden in the New Year. But this needn’t become a crisis – problems can be taken care of if you seek advice early.”

“The New Year is a good time to get on top of your debts, cut your costs or budget better. Citizens Advice can help you review your situation so you can make decisions that improve your financial security.”

Citizens Advice Ipswich’s six top tips to sort out your debts:

1. Work out how much you owe – Make a list of who you owe money to and add up how much you need to pay each month. If you don’t have your most recent statements, contact your creditor to find out what you owe.

2. Prioritise your debts – Your rent or mortgage, energy and council tax are called priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them. These should always be paid first. Separate these and work out how much you owe.

3. Work out how much you can pay – Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and housing, and taking away these from your income. Any money you have spare can be put towards your debts. Citizens Advice budgeting tool can help.

4. Paying urgent debts – You may have several priority debts and can’t pay them all. Contact all your creditors to find out if you can negotiate on how much you pay, or when you pay them. Always pay first priority creditors who are taking action against you.

5. Paying non-urgent debts – If you have any money left after paying priority debts, consider getting a free debt-management plan. You’ll make one monthly payment to the plan provider, who will handle paying your creditors. Or contact your creditors and offer them what you can afford to pay.

6. If you can’t pay your debts – If you’ve got little or no money spare to pay your priority debts seek advice from us straight away.

For more information and help, look at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/help-with-debt/

Citizens Advice Ipswich warns people of getting tied into subscriptions

Citizens Advice Ipswich is warning people about getting stuck with subscriptions after new research reveals people are wasting hundreds of pounds on them when they’re no longer wanted.

Analysis of 500 cases reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service between June and August 2017 finds people lost an average of £160 from subscriptions they wanted to cancel, but weren’t able to.

Citizens Advice Ipswich is now sharing tips on how to avoid getting tied into a subscription and will be taking part in National Consumer Week – a campaign to help people understand their consumer rights which launches on Monday 27 November.

The analysis from national Citizens Advice reveals that companies can make it hard to cancel a subscription with 9 in 10 people prevented from doing so after initially asking. Common reasons for turning down a cancellation include being told to use a specific method, like the phone, or to give more than a month’s notice.

People also reported not being made aware they had signed up for a subscription in the first place, or that their contract would continue on an auto renewal basis.

With subscriptions now being offered across a range of goods and services, from beauty products to TV streaming, Citizens Advice Ipswich is urging people to check the small print before they sign up to one.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, businesses can’t enforce terms on consumers that are unfair.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“People can be made to feel like they’re going round in circles when trying to cancel a subscription.”

“This research shows that companies are continuing to cash in on unwanted subscriptions by blocking people’s cancellation on the grounds of a technicality. It’s important for people to read any terms and conditions before signing up to a subscription, but they should also be on the lookout for companies who are deliberately throwing obstacles in their way when they try to cancel.”

“Anyone who needs advice on how to cancel a subscription, or runs into difficulty doing so, should contact us for further help.”

Need to know tips about subscriptions

Check what your cancellation rights are
Each supplier can set their own cancellation policy and they don’t need to offer you a right to cancel your subscription early. Make sure the terms and conditions look reasonable before signing up.

Remember you’ve got a cooling off period if you buy online

If you bought the subscription online, the law says you usually have 14 days to get your money back if you change your mind. However, you might not be able to get a refund if you start using the service straight away.

Follow the cancellation policy

Make sure you follow the cancellation policy set out in your contract when you’re ready to end your subscription. Don’t stop your payment without checking what else is required first – otherwise your subscription may not be cancelled and you could be liable for any missed payments.

Challenge unfair T&Cs

There are no strict definitions for what counts as an unfair policy. But if you’re finding it tough or have to give a long period of notice to cancel a subscription, contact the supplier’s customer services department. If this fails go to the supplier’s trade or complaints body or report to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service.

More people needing help with PIP, says Citizens Advice Ipswich

Citizens Advice Ipswich helped 50% more clients with a problem related to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in the year to 31 March 2017, compared to the previous year.

PIP is a benefit that helps people to meet the extra costs of being disabled or having a long term health condition. For example it allows them to employ a carer who can help them get washed and dressed in the mornings, or to have a mobility scooter so they can travel to work.

Most people who contacted the charity about PIP wanted help to:

  • Make a claim or check their eligibility
  • Challenge the outcome of their assessment decision
  • Take their appeal to tribunal

To receive PIP people must have an assessment to gauge the level of assistance they need but flaws with the system can result in delays in getting an assessment, assessments being offered at inconvenient venues or cancelled at short notice, and some people being wrongly assessed.

The charity saw one client with serious health problems who was given an appointment for a PIP assessment in a town 35 miles away, involving a journey of at least two and a half hours by public transport. Although the client was refused a change of venue when she tried to get it moved, with help from Citizens Advice Ipswich the appointment was rearranged for the local assessment centre, a simple bus journey from the client’s home.

Common problems with the assessment include confusion over what evidence to submit in advance, being rushed for time during the assessment and the wrong information being recorded by assessors.

In total, almost 20,000 people asked Citizens Advice for help with a PIP problem in the year ending March 2017 making it the most common advice issue for the charity. Ipswich dealt with 158 which is over twice the national average.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich said:

“A wrong PIP assessment decision can lead to people missing out on the everyday support they need.

“The daily reality of living with a disability can often be overlooked during the PIP assessment so it’s important that people know they can try to overturn this decision by asking for a reconsideration or appealing their case at tribunal.”

“Anyone who wants to make a PIP appeal, or has a more general query about the benefit, should contact Citizens Advice Ipswich or Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau to understand their next steps.”

General information on PIP and other benefits for disabled people or people with long-term health conditions can be found on https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/sick-or-disabled-people-and-carers/pip/